"Son of a biscuit eater!"
"Shut the front door!"
Words are sounds that we make to communicate ideas and express emotions. Words have no substance, but they can have tremendous meaning and effect. That meaning can and does change based on what people decide the word means.
What doesn't change, though, are the thoughts and feelings that give meaning to the sounds we make with our mouths. It's these internal sources that give words their strength and what really matters.
"I LOVE BIDGES!"
A short, funny story before we dive in. While driving to visit my in-laws, we had to cross a large bridge. At the time, my youngest son was about 3 and was just starting to put together multi-word sentences.
As we approached the bridge, I pointed out the bridge to him and he exclaimed, "BIDGE!? I LOVE BIDGES!!!" In his cute, 3-year-old accent, he dead-on said "bitches" and I nearly crashed the car I was laughing so hard.
My youngest didn't understand why I was laughing, but my oldest boy thought he knew why. When the youngest asked what was so funny, his brother nervously whispered to him, "You said a bad word."
I perked up a bit, curious to know what sort of exposure my 8 year-old had had to this sort of language so I asked what word he thought his younger brother had said. He squirmed more than a little because he didn't want to say this bad word in front of the family. I told him that I would give him a free pass this one time to say the word.
After much convincing that I wasn't trying to trick him, he sheepishly looked down and mumbled quietly, "He said 'britches'."
I was pleased that my older boy thought that 'britches' was a bad word and I didn't correct him.
What would Jesus say?
There are a bunch of passages in the Bible that talk about words and our language. Jesus himself even has something to say about it in Matthew 15:18. To paraphrase, he says that the words we speak come from our hearts and that this is what defiles us. Jesus said that to people that were questioning him about food rather than language, but I think his point applies to our discussion.
Another passage where Jesus talks about language is in Luke 6:45 where he says virtually the same thing pointing out that it's a man's heart that gives life to the words he speaks.
It's easy to conclude if we just stop saying "bad" words, that we'll be following this teaching. If you dig just a bit deeper, I think you'll find that it's not our words that are the focus of this teaching. We're actually being taught to change our hearts first and then our words will naturally follow.
What do you think of when someone smashes his thumb with a hammer and starts jumping around shouting, "SON OF A BISCUIT EATER!" When I hear someone use these substitute "bad" words, I think to myself, "He really meant 'son of a bitch', but thinks he might offend me or the people around me if he really said what he meant."
His mouth may have said 'biscuit eater', but his heart said 'bitch'.
Dropping F-Bombs Like a B2
Don't get me wrong, I don't think that fathers should go around carpet bombing with f-bombs. When you use "bad" words like most people use the "uhh" or "um", you're laying it on too thick. Also, your son will tune you out.
That said, I think that "bad" words do actually have a practical and good use for fathers and sons. The measured and intentional use of "bad" words can have a significant impact on your son which may be necessary from time to time.
There have been several instances where I need to make sure that my boys remember something important and I've intentionally worked in an f-bomb to make the message memorable.
One particular instance occurred when a boy was testing the waters of honesty to see what he could get away with. When I confronted his behavior, I told him that I was "fucking pissed off" that he was lying to me. His eyes got as big as saucers and the conversation was very productive.
A little more than a year later, he was dabbling in dishonesty again, but not quite crossing the line. I asked him if he remembered what I told him about how I felt when he lied to me and if he wanted to risk creating that kind of environment for himself.
He was able to quote me nearly verbatim, save for self-censoring the f-bomb. That showed me that this lesson had stuck, I just needed to remind him of it.
Right Time, Right Place
I think that there's a time and place where "bad" words are good and appropriate. I don't think that God has some list of words that if we use, he'll slap our hands. I think that God cares much more about our hearts than the vocabulary that we use to communicate what's in our heart.
There's a measure of freedom and accountability that comes with language being a heart issue. The freedom comes in the form of the removal of a checklist of rules to obey. I don't have to memorize some list of words that are off-limits and I no longer bear the burden of risk from accidentally letting one slip.
I am, however, now accountable to God for what's in my heart and in my mind. If I think the thoughts or feel the emotions that are commonly expressed with "bad" words, then I'm just as accountable as if I had said the words. While guarding thoughts and emotions is more difficult and requires a higher degree of introspection, the result is a heart that is more closely aligned with the goal of Jesus' teachings.
For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.
Galatians 5:13 (NLT)
For you are free, yet you are God’s slaves, so don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil.
1 Peter 2:16 (NLT)